Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on HAPPY 238TH BIRTHDAY TO THE CORPS OF AMERICAN MARINES

By Colonel Ronald D. Ray[1] 

November 10, 2013 marks the 238th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Founded in 1775, in Philadelphia, the Marine Corps predates the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Before the United States, there were American Marines.  Since then, in battles around the globe, the Marines, who have earned respect and honor through repeatedly demonstrating “uncommon valor” as a “common virtue”.  The service and sacrifice of generations of American Marines who have been willing, as America’s force in readiness, to go first to any fight wherever we can take a rifle.  Marines are primarily light infantry, “Soldiers of the Sea,” who take the words of The Marines’ Hymn to heart. 

…We fight our country’s battles, In the air, on land, and sea.  First to fight for right and freedom, And to keep our honor clean, We are proud to claim the title Of United States Marine…

 At this momentous Marine Corps birthday, as Marines gather across the globe to celebrate the Corp’s birthday, it is appropriate to remember not just the Marines who have served, but also to remember the Marine Corps’ high founding standards borne of our first principles.   

The Corp’s first principles were drawn under the leadership of John Adams, the father of the United States Naval Service and America’s 2nd President, who chaired the “Marine Committee” during the hard summer of 1775.  Blood had already been shed.  The strain of the pending war for America’s independence was in the air as Adam’s historic Committee wrote the “Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North-America” which was adopted by the Continental Congress on November 28, 1775.  This foundation defined the “virtue, honor and patriotism” that has animated and obligated the Corps for 238 years.

 First, Commanders of all ships and vessels belonging to the Thirteen United Colonies were strictly required “to shew in themselves a good example of honor and virtue to their officers and men, and to be very vigilant in inspecting the behaviour of all such as are under them, and to discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral and disorderly practices; and also, such as are contrary to the rules of discipline and obedience, and to correct those who are guilty of the same according to the usage of the sea.”

The Adams’ Committee established the standards for sailors and marines preparing to fight for their fledgling nation in an impossible war against the Army and Navy of England, the most powerful in the world.  In order to form the American naval forces and enforce the honor and virtue standard, the Adams Committee relied on more than the force of mere human beings.  It would take a dedication to Almighty God. And thus, secondly, Adams required “Commanders of ships to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent it”. 

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution only authorized the Congress “to make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the Land and Naval Forces.”  The first Article of the Adams’ Naval Committee was eventually reaffirmed and expanded by an Act of Congress in 1956, which is still in force today.  That historic law containing our first principle now says; “All commanding officers and others in authority in the naval service are required to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; … to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Navy, all persons who are guilty of them.”[2] 

 Likewise, the current statutory mandate that officers of the land and naval forces comport to a higher standard of personal behavior – both on and off duty – traces to the 1775 “American Articles of War,” which forbade officers from “behaving in a scandalous, infamous manner,” and required that any commissioned officer found guilty”  . . . be ipso facto cashiered [i.e., dismissed from a position of command or responsibility], and deemed unfit for further service as an officer.”[3] 

From the American Republic’s earliest beginnings, the democratically elected Congress has been the primary authority to regulate America’s military services.  For the welfare of officers and enlisted personnel, the Congress requires our armed forces to uphold and enforce those high standards from the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to the new recruit, but especially for those in the most senior ranks.  As recently as June 3, 1996, the United States supreme Court[4] pointed to the Commander in Chief’s vital role in good order and discipline: “‘The military constitutes a specialized community governed by a separate discipline from that of the civilian,’ and the President can be entrusted to determine what limitations and conditions on punishment are best suited to preserve that special discipline.”  (Loving v. United States.)

Over the last several years the standards of virtue, honor and patriotism have dipped and good order and discipline in the American armed services have suffered.  Morale is reported to be way down.  Our motto requires that we be “always faithful”.  When we aren’t and our high standards are compromised, not upheld and enforced, the resulting break in faith has caused the services to hemorrhage irreplaceable young officers and NCOs.  Key combat veterans – senior enlisted men – are also bailing out too often today.  Military training and Combat Readiness are at an all-time low.  The New York Times flatly reported on Saturday September 9, 2000 that Navy Department has declared the, “Navy Aviation is in Bad Shape.”  Too many of the very best combat pilots are leaving the Navy and Air Force in droves. 

Military personnel bemoan too many missions that miscast the American armed forces as the global “911” and the UN’s “Meals on Wheels.”  The forces are confused about their role and mission.  The military is a fighting force and maintaining a “combat mentality” focused on war fighting is an imperative for Marines and the nation’s other elite “tip of the spear” units.   Yet The New York Times reports that these elite war-fighting groups need to be diplomats trained in the “subtler arts of policing streets and preventing violence between ethnic factions.”  Over the last eight years, junior officers have been put in harm’s way – often under foreign commanders, who have to balance roles from different competing chains-of-command creating a precarious policy tightrope. 

America asks her enlisted members to “solemnly swear (or affirm)” to “support and defend” the Constitution of “the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same;” and to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over them, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  “So help me God.”  So sworn, young officers and enlisted are entrusted by their parents to the Corps to do a difficult and sometimes an impossible job for their country.  War, victory and the military’s mission have been redefined by politicians.  Military leaders who uphold the once high standards are often relieved of command or not promoted.  Those who accept lowered or “politically correct” standards are often promoted.  How then can a commanding officer of a warship or an Infantry Company order an 18-year-old sailor or Marine to go in harm’s way in the line of duty, if the commander is not willing to keep his “honor clean” by risking his own personal career ambitions?  He can’t.  How can that same commanding officer expect good order and discipline from his men without upholding and adhering to the same code?  He can’t.  A leader must be the example, first and foremost. 

 Admiral Thomas Moorer, former CNO and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined in the American Navy’s long refrain John Adams began during the hard summer of 1775, when he testified in 1998 before the House Judiciary Committee and addressed the two fundamental issues of military leadership:  Honor and Accountability.  These virtues are indispensable in our military.  Without them, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and civilians die unnecessarily. . . When the troops know their leaders are not being held accountable for dishonorable conduct or “immoral and dissolute behavior”, the “corrosive effect” is devastating on good order and discipline. 

Every commissioned and non-commissioned officer learns that “no man is above the law.”  It is destructive and hateful for subordinates to see or hear any leader claim that you rate what you skate (get away with).  There can be NO expectation that somehow it’s ever okay to evade accountability, even if you can get away with it.  A leadership crisis still looms, if our American system of laws and military standards does not again hold all officers and leaders responsible to a standard of full accountability.  Yet responsibility without accountability “according to law” undermines the foundations of America as a Constitutional Republic, a principle known as the Rule of Law (as opposed to the rule of men), without which our Constitution, which we swear to defend, is no more than a historic relic.

Across the country there is a hope for a renewed sense of honor and moral courage in response to violent terrorism, both foreign and domestic.   As Marines, let us each rededicate ourselves to our historic founding principles and our oath which still obligates us today to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Coupling hope with action by extending the challenge within any Marine command to “commanding officers and others in authority” (10 U.S.C. § 5947), to raise again virtue, honor and patriotism and consider formal training, or even an “Honor, Moral Courage, and Accountability Stand-down.”  For those who choose to confront this challenge of moral leadership head on, I recommend as required reading “U.S. Navy Regulations, 1775” (www.history.navy.mil), and for Marine NCO’s and officers and other officer candidates, I recommend for memorization at least the First Article of the 1775 Navy regulations.

In conclusion, as United States Marines celebrate our 238th November 10, let us remember the foundation of our honor and animating spirit found in the standards born of our first principles given to us by John Adams in 1775. Today the Marine Corps has a more fundamental challenge to leadership than simply instilling America’s long adversity to any lying, cheating, and stealing:  Marines are the “first to fight for right and freedom,” but after physical courage, how is moral courage to again be instilled in young Marine leaders so that we might, as our Hymn says, “keep our honor clean?”  Our pride in claiming the title “United States Marine” comes in large part from the moral courage necessary to admit wrong and to accept accountability for all mistakes made from our senior Marine leaders to the lieutenants.  Shrinking from “right” and the defense of the public interest because of the risk to one’s personal interests or ambitions is no excuse for any officer of the United States Marine Corps anymore than is shrinking from the sound of the guns. 

Happy Birthday Marines!

[1] Ronald D. Ray, Colonel, USMCR, (Ret.), Colonel Ronald D. Ray is a Christian, husband and father, a practicing attorney and a highly decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War (two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart).  He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration and was appointed by President Bush to serve on the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.  He is an author, historian and lecturer whose most recent published article is entitled “Subversion of a Moral Principle.”  Scott & Stanley, editors; “Gays and Lesbians in the Military,” 1994.  Colonel Ray writes and speaks on a wide range of subjects and has appeared on a variety of national television news broadcasts including ABC World News Tonight, Larry King Live, The Today Show, and Crossfire.

[2] 10 U.S.C. § 5947.  The 1775 version reads:  “ART. 1.  The Commanders of all ships and vessels belonging to the THIRTEEN UNITED COLONIES, are strictly required to shew in themselves a good example of honor and virtue to their officers and men, and to be vigilant in inspecting the behaviour of all such as are under them, and to discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral and disorderly practices; and also, such as are contrary to the rules of discipline and obedience, and to correct those who are guilty of the same according to the usage of the sea.”  (www.history.navy.mil). 

[3] See 10 U.S.C. § 933 (“Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen”).  The 1775 version reads:  XLVII.  Whatsoever commissioned officer shall be convicted before a general court martial, of behaving in a scandalous, infamous manner, such as is unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, shall be discharged from the service. . .  “Additional Articles. . . 2.  All commissioned officers found guilty by a general court-martial of any fraud. . . shall forfeit all his pay, be ipso facto cashiered, and deemed unfit for further service as an officer. . . 4.  In all cases where a commissioned officer is cashiered for cowardice or fraud, it be added in the punishment, that the crime, name, place of abode, and punishment of the delinquent be published in the newspapers, in and about the camp, and of that colony from which the offender came, or usually resides; after which it shall be deemed scandalous in any officer to associate with him.”  (Winthrop, MILITARY LAW AND PRECEDENTS 957, 959 (2d ed. 1920). 

[4] In the Constitution, the “s” in supreme Court is lower case.  

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